Going on vacation….. just to wait in line

I have oft been accused of trying to structure vacations around beer.  While my wife does an amazing job with the more critical logistics of accommodation, transportation and cultural highlights, I tend to focus on locating breweries and opportunities to sample beer that I can’t get at home.  My annual trip to see cousins in Vermont is no exception.

It’s no secret that Vermont boasts one heck of a beer scene.  Names like Heady Topper, Lawson’s Liquids, Hill Farmstead and now Fiddlehead get geeks very excited.  But with only 3 full days in state and the need to actually spend some time with family meant that there was no way I could hit them all.  Looking over schedules and maps I determined I could hit the weekly Lawson’s release in relatively nearby Woodstock and then two days later make the two hour trip (each way) to Hill Farmstead.  Fiddlehead would have to wait for next year.

Here’s the thing.  Both trips meant waiting in line.  Lawson’s went on sale at noon and when I arrived at 11:40 there were already 6 people in line ahead of me.  Looking into the cooler I could see that I would definitely get some Sip of Sunshine but it was not clear that I would score some Super Session #2.

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While my cousin held my place I browsed the bottle shop and loaded up with local brews.  The line for Lawson’s kept on growing. At 11:55 the clerk took pity on us and started selling.  My cousin helped me to double my score getting his own four pack of Sunshine and six pack of Session.

Wednesday came and I set out on my own with every intention of getting to Hill Farmstead well before the noon opening.  My only other trip there had been two years before for a special bottle release of Genealogy of Morals and Phenomenology of Spirit.   It was a total shit show with geeks flocking in for hundreds of miles.  It took over two hours to get my bottles of these rarities and then get my growlers filled with IPA’s.  But I figured that had to be the exception, not the rule.  Today I imagined I could breeze in and out in 30 minutes or so. IMAG00136

Thanks to a closed bridge which did not show on my phone until I got there, my arrival was delayed until 11:50.   I was greeted by a full parking lot and a line that stretched out the door.  On entering the building an employee helped orient me to their system which meant I was given a checklist to fill out with how many bottles and growlers I planned to buy.  Once filled out I turned it back in and was assigned an ignominious number “46.” Obviously this was going to take longer than I thought.  But very soon my hoped for departure time of 1 pm became 1:30 and then 2.

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Trying a tasting flight of four different drafts helped pass the time.  The fact that beer geeks are also a pretty convivial bunch meant lots of conversation with people of Vermont, Boston and Connecticut.  Even so, it was just after 2 pm by the time my order was filled and wheeled out to my car.

To their credit the staff was quite apologetic.  I learned that Wednesday’s are usually their busiest day and I suspect that if I had arrived at 3 pm my wait would have been much shorter.  Ah, the best laid plans.

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It can be argued that no beer is worth waiting in line that long.  But the truth is that most geeks have done exactly that at one time or another.  The question is, Is that a practice we should ever repeat?  In the case of my trip to Hill, given that I spent four hours driving just to be there, there was no way I was going home empty handed.  But the question is, how much time and energy is a beer worth?

There is no doubt that these expeditions can be fun and thus have some intrinsic value that is independent of the liquid goal.  But the investment of time, gas and energy does leave me wondering about the cost-benefit analysis.  Just how much is that beer worth?

Without a doubt the fruits of my efforts are world class.  Yet I can also get world class beers from local breweries via a five minute trip to the local distributor or bottle shop.

What do you think?  What is the furthest you have traveled to get a specific beer?  How long have you waited?  Was it worth it?  I’d love to know.

I Rise to Offer an Amendment

“I rise to offer an amendment to resolution A158.”  Thus I began my plea to ensure that Amendment 2the Episcopal Church did not effectively ban Theology on Tap, Pub Theology, The Biblical Brew Off and other beer-centric programs that are so near and dear to my heart.

Let me explain how I found myself standing on a podium defending beer-based ministry in front of 1000 people. It started back in late December when now former Bishop Heather Cook struck and killed a bicyclist while drunk.  You can read more about the details and my thoughts here.

The result was a great deal of internal discussion. While there were many questions about complicity and failure in her election process, the more important issue centered around about the role that alcohol play in our common life as Episcopalians.

With General Convention on the horizon there was a bit of hyperbole and handwringing with some even calling for Convention to be alcohol free.  But in time the online fervor started to die down.  However a special legislative Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse was formed to ensure continued engagement.

This Committee produced two primary pieces of legislation.  The first had to do with acknowledging and repenting of our complicity in creating a culture that enables substance abuse and can be hostile to those in recovery.  The second focused on establishing policies and procedures meant to ensure that our parishes are safe and welcoming places for all people including those who are in recovery.  This was a very thorough piece of legislation that covered a whole range of circumstances.

The trouble was that it singled out “Theology on Tap” by name as a program that could not use reference to alcohol, bars, etc., in promotional material or advertising.  (Disclaimer: TOT is copyrighted and owned by the Roman Catholic Church.)  While this requirement would bring our related programs in line with other church activities, it would also effectively kill them.

This was the crux of my argument to strike “TOT” from the resolution.  Unlike a “wine and cheese party” which could easily be re-titled as a “garden party” or the like, there is no way to remove the association with alcohol from such beer/bar based programs. If the legislation remained unchanged it would have halted one of the most creative and effective means we have for reaching out to those who might otherwise feel alienated from the Church.

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Thankfully the amendment passed overwhelmingly, in part thanks to the support of many people from the Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse in moving the amendment.  To ensure their support we added additional langue to the amendment in order to ensure that any such gathering have fellowship, conversation and evangelism as their primary purpose, as opposed to simply being drinking clubs.

I will share more about this collaboration and what I learned  in a coming installment.

Can I get I drink?

First my apologies for being offline for a month.  Life, work, family and travel kept pushing writing a new post to the back of the que.

When I learned that I was going to be spending 10 days in Salt Lake City in order to attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I inwardly groaned.  Salt Lake?  Really?  How boring. More importantly, would I be able to get a decent beer?

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Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Within just a few blocks of my hotel there are at least a dozen bars including two brew pubs, Squatters and Red Rocks.  Indeed within just a few outings I found that there were many local breweries making pretty decent stuff.

Of course there is a wrinkle.  While booze can be easily had the states’ Mormon heritage still shows through.  Most noticeably is in draft beer.  All draft beer in the state must be 4% ABV or less.  While this might sound like a terrible idea to everyone except Mr. Session Beer himself, Lew Bryson, it actually leads to a lot of creativity and some pretty tasty beers too.  The restriction harkens back to the old “3.2 beer.” Since 3.2 measured alcohol by weight as opposed to volume it works out to be the same strength.

While I can imagine that it makes a brewer’s job much harder, they actually manage to put forward some solid offerings.  I’ve had a few solid helles and pilsners but beyond that there are other more interesting options.  Naturally the “session” IPA’s and pale ales are ubiquitous but I’ve also had a really good cream ale and porter and saw a “chocolate, chocolate rye.”

Of course higher test beers can be had in cans and bottles and I’ve had some really solid options there too.  Sometimes the ABV isn’t all that much higher.  I’ve had pilsners and lagers that were 5.5% and tried several IPA’s as well.  I even had a good nut brown and a 12% ABV RIS.

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Bobcat Nutbrown at Red Rocks Brew Pub

The other vagary that I’ve encountered has no upside.  High West distillery is just a half an hour away on Park City and makes some great ryes in particular.  I was excited to find a number that I haven’t tried readily available and for a reasonable price.  I found out the catch when the waitress brought me a pour of “Son of Bourye” and I had to ask her if it was as full pour or just a taste.  Turns out that all hard alcohol must be poured out through a device that strictly measures out an ounce.  You also can’t order a double pour although if you have a drink with several alcohols in it then it can have up to 2 1/2 ounces in it. Doesn’t matter how nice you are to the barkeep, those skimpy pours are all the law allows.

So even though there are some real differences I have to say that SLC is a worthy beer destination after all.

The Countdown to Philly Beer Week: Sometimes there’s just too many choices!

Once when I was in first grade my grandparents took me to NYC.  I don’t remember toysoldiermany of the details but one thing that still stands in my mind was going to FAO Schwarz.  For those of you too young to recall, FAO was simply the greatest toy store on the planet.  Back before the net, the FAO catalog that would come before Christmas was pure crack for us kids.  But to actually travel to the Mecca itself- to walk in through those glass doors was like entering Nirvana.  The experience could be quite overwhelming, making it hard to know where to go and what to gawk at first.

That’s kind of how I feel now as I am poised on the eve of another Philly Beer Week.  For the next ten days our city (and metro region) will be deluged with amazing beer some of which is appearing here for the first time or is a one-off brewed just for the occasion.  There are chances to meet some true luminaries and to indulge in carefully paired beer dinners.  There’s also the chance to have some fun doing things like racing to assemble IKEA furniture after chugging two high proof beers and other such creative nonsense.

The problem is that it is actually overwhelming for me to try and assess what to do.  There are after all, only so many hours in the day, so much time I can take away from work and from family and of course only so much abuse my poor liver can endure.

Four or five years ago it used to be easier.. pick a few premium events featuring world class opportunities to taste or talk and make the time.  Now I feel like the first grade me all over again… I look at the PBW schedule and have no idea where to begin.

Look- I am not asking for a pity party here.  As problems go, this is a good one to have.

The best thing for me to do is to admit from the start that no matter how hard I try simply cannot do everything I want to.  Welcome to adulthood, Kirk.  In years past this would have driven me nuts. I would have lost sleep trying to figure out how I can be in two places at once or how I can skip out early on some critical meeting in order to try and get a taste of Super Dooper Barrel Aged Monkey Butt Ale with Brett (on the off chance that is actually a beer name I apologize for infringing on your IP).

But you know what, somehow it doesn’t matter quite so much anymore.  I’ve tried a lot of beers and I will get to try a lot more and even though I may miss out on some amazing brew that I will never get to taste again, what really matters is that my life is still pretty well complete and quite fulfilling anyway.

And so this year I will get out to the Brew Off and together with a Rabbi and a Minister I will again walk into a bar, but beyond that I may only get to a few other events.  And you know what- I’m OK with that.

But, if you’re in the area, do yourself a favor and go to something- anything- cause its all pretty good and this week is something that Philly does better than any place else on earth!

Thanks for indulging me and allowing me to use the blog as my confessional and who knows… maybe I’ll see you out there for Philly Beer Week.

 

PS-  I just learned that the iconic FAO in NYC is closing :(

It’s Team Jesus vs Team Moses. The Biblical Brew Off is Back!

In what we hope will be bigger and better than ever.  For the second time homebrew teams from Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church and Congregation Rodeph Shalom will be laying it all on the line to see which faith makes the better beer.  Team Moses will be putting up three of their best in the rematch in hopes taking the title away from Team Jesus in the 2nd Annual Biblical Brew Off.     arm-wrestle

If you’re not familiar with the event from last year, each congregation will brew 3 beers which will then be blindly evaluated by experienced judges according to BJCB standards.  The team with the highest total points from their 3 beers will be declared the winner.  There will also be a people’s choice- each person in attendance will get to vote for their one favorite beer. 140510_biblical brew off_030

But we will not simply be competing for bragging rights.  Every penny above our actual expenses will go to charity.  Team Jesus will be competing for North Light Community Center while Team Moses will be competing for Jews in All Hues. The purse will be split with 2/3rd going to the winner’s charity and 1/3 to the other – that way everyone walks away a winner.  Of course we encourage donations and will give someone from each charity a few minutes to talk about their mission.

This year promises to be bigger and better than ever since it will be part of Philly Beer Week.   Join us on May 30th at 7pm at Rodeph Shalom (615 North Broad Street).  Tickets are only $35 ($40 at the door) and can be purchased here.  That gets you unlimited samples of the different beers, BBQ from Deke’s (a local favorite) and a commemorative pint glass. Best of all its all to benefit local people in need and those who struggle to fit in.

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Big thanks to our judges (Nancy Rigberg, Danya Henniger and George Hummel)  Brian Biggs (who drew the logo), Home Sweet Homebrew, Michael Mafodda of Blue Stone Creative Group who got us the glasses and shirts, Erin Wallace and Barren Hill for donating the People’s Choice prize and to James Zelniak of Punch Media for all of their support!

Nerd Alert!

Once a nerd, always a nerd.  My middle and high school years were spent dressed in fiendcamouflage and memorizing the contents of the Fiend Folio.  I went to Renaissance Faires, in costume, complete with chain mail I made myself.   If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I don’t know what would.

In the decades since much has changed about my life.  My clothes come from Nordstrom Rack as opposed to I. Goldberg. I haven’t played D&D in almost a decade (though I still have my  Fiend Folio) nor can I remember the last time I shouted Huzzah! or walked around Mount Hope with a smoked turkey leg and leather mug.

But the fact is, I’m still a nerd.  I just swapped memorizing facts about fictional monsters for memorizing the ABV and IBU’s of hundreds of different beers.  Instead of reading countless trashy novels of Gor,  I now devour the equally lurid but far longer and better written Game of Thrones.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.

But every once in a while my nerd-i-verses collide.  And so it was that last month I found myself immersed in the great nerd-convergence as fragments of my past mingled with the present.

Like millions of others my wife and I were looking forward to April 12th with great anticipation.  If you need to ask why April 12th was significant then I fear that what I am about to share will just leave you shaking your head.  But please read on nonetheless.

As the date for the premiere of Season Five of Game of Thrones drew closer we started planning how we could celebrate this momentous event in the style it deserved.

DSC_4200And so it was that my many nerdy facets starting coming together.  The fact that I am now a beer nerd came in handy.  I went to the cellar and broke out my collection of all five (to date) GOT themed beers from Ommegang.  My wife did her part by breaking out her GOT cookbook- a Feast of Ice and Fire.  And Ren Faire background kicked in by providing chain mail, a shield and sword to decorate the table.

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The end result was either totally awesome or kind of sad (though how anyone could failDSC_4221 to be impressed by bacon lattice topped beef pie is beyond me).  It all depends on whether or not you are a nerd.  Because no matter how much your tastes may change over the years the fact remains: once a nerd, always a nerd.  And you know what, I’m just fine with that.

 

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Waiting for the “Click”

During Lent and since I spent a lot of time reflecting on the role alcohol plays in my life. As part of this work I have done some basic research into what is considered healthy levels of alcohol consumption.  This should not be surprising.  So often when it comes to things like our health we turn to quantifiable measures.

What I found was a huge range of what qualifies as “excessive” when it comes to drinking.  It varies first and foremost by gender.  Across the board men can drink more than women and still stay within the “healthy” range.  But from there the variations spread out over such a range as to become confusing. For an idea check out this article that gives a thorough overview.  But ultimately, the measure depends upon who and where you ask.  Contrast this article from the UK to the CDC’s recommendations.  I suspect it also varies just as widely depending on when in history you were asking as well.

The point is that there is not universal agreement as to the numbers.  Indeed some have calling the CDC’s recommendations into question.  For example in New Zealand it is recommended that a man consume no more than 1-2 drinks per day with a cap of 14 drinks per week.  Moreover, they also recommend not drinking on 2 days per week.  At the more liberal end countries like Italy or the UK can allow for 3-4 drinks per day (although it varies depending on which source you consult).

While it is clear that everyone thinks there are limits on how much booze we drink before it becomes a problem it seems to me that there is a more compelling and important question to be asked here.  Just why do we drink?  If we are really going to understand drinking in the context of health then I think we need to take an equally candid look at why we drink.  So perhaps it is more helpful in making a true assessment to ask the question of why?  Here there is some literature but again it is widely varied and often focuses only on problematic reasons.  One of the more useful ones I found is here.

But in the end when it comes to assessing our relationship with alcohol many times “why” turns out to be the most important question we can ask ourselves.  Sometimes we drink for positive reasons- to celebrate, to compliment a meal, to enhance time with friends.  Other times we drink to cope with negative things like depression, anger, stress or anxiety.

Of course not all “negative” reasons for drinking are inherently unhealthy.  There is nothing wrong with having a scotch to unwind after a long meeting. But is that the only way you have of coping?  Why are you turning to that bottle?  Is it because you have no other way to manage the difficult feelings inside or is it a compliment to other mechanisms.  Is that drink taking the place of spiritual or emotional resources or is it simply one of many ways you have to help unwind and leave that meeting behind you for the night?

The point is that the “why” matters.  Those of us who drink have lots of different why’s.  And many times they are circumstantial.   When we come back from that stressful meeting we will not always choose to cope with it by having a drink. Maybe sometimes instead of the drink you might go a for a run to burn off the stress?  Or you might sip on that drink while venting to your spouse as well.   Indeed, having a variety of why’s and more importantly  a variety of ways of coping with the negative ones would seem to be indicate a healthier relationship with alcohol.   But when the reasons we drink becoming fewer and more consistent, it is then that we have to be especially vigilant.

catI can think of no more poignant example of an unhealthy “why” than the character of Brick from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  I saw this play years ago at McCarter Theater in Princeton and this scene left an indelible impression.  Indeed in those times when I have turned to alcohol to cope with stress or to otherwise help me quell some inner demon, I have replayed it in my own mind, wondering if I too am looking for that “click.”

              Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.

             Big Daddy: What’s that?

             Brick: A click in my head.

             Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?

             Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.

             Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.

            Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the                   cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.

            Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!

            Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me…

            Big Daddy[grabbing him] No, I won’t excuse you.

            Brick: Now I’m waitin’ for that click and I don’t get it. Listen, I’m all alone. I’m                   talkin’ to no one where there’s absolute quiet.

            Big Daddy: You’ll hear plenty of that in the grave soon enough.

For the fully dramatic effect you can watch the scene here.

Why do we drink?  What are we looking for that drink to do for us?  As much as “how much” and “how often” these are also the questions we need to be asking ourselves as we assess our relationship with alcohol.  As much as I love beer the fact is I cannot drink as much as I might sometimes like and hope to remain healthy, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually and relationally as well.  As a result I have to keep looking at my habits and asking that vital question, why?   Because if we are looking to booze to bring us peace, we might find temporary relief, but it cannot ever truly silence our inner demons.

If you have ever wondered about the health of your drinking habits do please check out the links in this post.  This story from NPR includes some links that offer assessment and tips for learning how to drink in more moderation.